Urhobo Historical Society

SUSTAINING DEMOCRACY
IN
THE MODERN WORLD

BY AKPOBIBIBO ONDUKU

As a concept, democracy originally meant a form of government where the right to make political decisions is exercised directly by the whole body of citizens, acting under procedures of majority rule.  This is usually known as direct democracy.  It later transformed to mean a form of government where the citizens exercise the same right not in person but through representatives chosen by and responsible to them, known as representative democracy.  Again it became where the powers of majority are exercised within a framework of constitutional restraints designed to guarantee the minority in the enjoyment of certain individual or collective rights, such as the right to life and development.  This became known as liberal or constitutional democracy.  Then to be democratic characterizes any political or social system, which regardless of whether or not the form of government is democratic in any of the above stages, tend to minimize social and economic differences especially out of the unequal distribution of private property, which is known as social or economic democracy.  Today, these various uses of the term can be carefully distinguished to avoid misunderstandings.  In all, many in this modern world agree with Abraham Lincoln that democracy should mean the government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Consequently, it is an incontestable truism that, from the fall of the Greek city-state to the rise of modern constitutionalism, there is a gap of centuries in the theory and practice of democracy.  One of the most important ideas is the modern conception of the constitution.  The ancients generally regarded law as an expression of rather than as a restraint upon the exercises of political power. The modern practice of representation is also medieval in origin arising as a consequence of the disintegration of state authority which followed the fall of Rome.

The first major experiment in constitutional democracy was inaugurated as a consequence of American Revolution although this was not the primary purpose of the revolutionary movement.  It is arguable that, democracy is a form of government which provides no opportunity for the legitimate expression of popular preferences and which confines the right of significant political action to small minority of the population.  Still, for the most, chances of participation are better under democratic regimes than authoritarian regimes.  In societies which are rich in social capital and associational life, increased participation appears to enhance prospects for sustainable as well as technically sound policy reforms, but creating opportunities for participation and managing the process over time are exactly tasks for reformers.  To strengthen democracy in this modern world, there must be established and institutional structure to ensure its sustainability.

The political situation today in many parts of the globe has remained a highly fluid state.  Democracy is in the ascendant everywhere but only the future could tell whether the prevailing form of democracy would prove to be constitutional or totalitarian. At a strategic level, those engaged in designing and implementing sectorally based programs need to recognize and adapt to the changing political and policy environment resulting from democratization.

Furthermore, at a pragmatic level, there is both the opportunity and the need to integrate sectoral programming and broad democratic governance reform efforts.  In fact, there is also a lot of argument that democracy will tend to aggravate existing intrastate conflicts and tensions mandating a plan to deal with such eventualities.  We need to know the nature of this internal breach and the effect of democratization on such conflicts and how this can be managed or mismanaged within a democratic framework.

Many societies that emerged from war experience renewed conflict or they do not succeed in overcoming the obstacles impeding reconciliation, reconstruction and development.  This is the situation in most of the developing world especially in the African continent.  The Nigerian case needs a surgical analysis to x-ray it into an expected safe berthing.  We might want to elaborate by helping in the identification of the different political and operational actors; domestic, national and international.  This would help us in the comprehension of the complexities in a post-conflict society like ours as well as clarifying the policy options, redefining strategies and working out ways of coordinating efforts.

Nigeria had emerged out of the civil war about thirty-two years ago as one nation with efforts geared towards peace, love, unity and progress.  The reminiscence of the first uprising in the Niger Delta championed by Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro of Kaiama town in present Bayelsa State cannot be swept out of our political history.  Here was an elusive and enigmatic nationalist who led a revolt against the oppressors to change the environment of the Niger Delta so that man can be man.  The Twelve-Day Revolution brought to fore in the early years of our nationhood the fundamentals of the national question.  This young and dynamic patriot died in May 16, 1968 during the civil war for the unity of our dear nation.   Oh! What a patriotism that had further subjugated his people to political, economic and social slavery.  His people after thirty-three years still live in the Stone Age in the presence of modern day technology.  The ‘guiding rod’ of the nation became their foe and their ‘guests’ now smile at their tears.  The case of Ken Saro-Wiwa is still very fresh in our memories. He was denied even at death the normal six feet casket.  Who are those today that are believed to be opting for the national interest, while further endangering the future of a God loved and endowed people with a land flowing with milk and honey?

In managing differences in the modern world, strategies implored should be morally acceptable.  Lets always consider our pluralism.  The issues at stake are too complex to be irrationally approached, the consequences of which we would not be able to bear.  I will borrow the Yoruba proverb that says ‘‘the signs of a bright and favourable Sunday is usually seen on a Saturday.’’  Our tomorrow seems to be mortgaged by several interests both within and without.  Lets not rule out the possibility of some external interests in the current Nigerian situation.  The developed world had always manipulated events of the ‘third world’.  This, I often frown at.  How did they become the ‘first’ in the world? Who are those occupying the ‘second’ position now? And should we forever be ‘third’?

Today, they claim that globalization gives added urgency to the task of strengthening government systems in the developing countries.  Private capital seems to be very mobile by going to where business can be carried out safely and where it can make the best return.  Weak and ineffective states, with problems of corruption, inadequate infrastructure and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures are not an attractive destination of these flows.  We need now to sincerely work towards reducing corruption and ensure respect for human rights and greater voice for the poor people like those of the Niger Delta.  There has been no committed developmental effort by the federal government in this region.  Inadequate funding of institutions and top bureaucratic and official embezzlement had always prevailed.  It is crystal clear that Nigerians are living at a time of profound historical change with great wealth and great squalor existing side by side.

Our literature on the needs of the Niger Delta is vast and in many cases has contributed substantially to our understanding of the issues plaguing the region, but in many other cases we have ignored the truths.  This is why our great sons; the Oronto Natei Douglas’s, Tam David-West’s, J.P. Clark’s, Gabriel Okara’s, Harold Dappa Biriye’s, Ola Rotimi’s and Claude Ake’s, just to mention a few have become vocal with some even at death.  For the sycophants they need no commendation.   This has become a focal point in political, economic, and social discourses.  In recent years, international agencies concerned with promoting development, have adopted as their criterion for action the satisfaction of so-called basic needs.  One of the pillars of a new type of development is to establish urgently a structure in order to overcome the degrading state of impoverishment that holds the majority of the inhabitants of the minorities in the developing world in its clutches.  Nowadays, it is accepted almost as a common place that development and human needs are irreducible components of a single equation.  However, within this perspective there is still much to be done in relation to the Niger Delta.

The interplay of actors in our nascent democracy has put the survivability of the country to question.  The biographies of many would be rewritten in the end of it all.  We must strive to heal the wounds of the past rather than inflicting more injuries on already bruised grounds.  The people of the Niger Delta need a geometric balance mathematically, economically, developmentally and politically but not a judicial option.  It is a waste of the already misappropriated wealth of the people.  In all, our destiny to protect our democracy lies in the hands of Nigerians and a sustainable future for the Niger Delta is a matter of political will and change.  The choice is ours.
 

AKPOBIBIBO ONDUKU
Written at EPU-Austria in April 2001.


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